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Malawi Food Security Outlook, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in the south given delayed start to assistance program (December 2020)

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Key Messages

  • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to persist across most of the country throughout the projection period. In the presence of humanitarian assistance (expected from January/February through March 2021), Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are anticipated in six districts of southern Malawi and one district of central Malawi that would have been expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the lean season in the absence of assistance. Outcomes in these areas are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with the harvest in April 2021. Meanwhile, improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes is expected in urban areas by January 2021 as economic recovery improves access to income, though some low-income households will likely register Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the subsequent months given the impacts of a second wave of COVID-19 in the region.

  • Retail prices for maize grain remain significantly lower than last year but have generally been increasing in recent months, in line with typical trends during the lean season. However, in November 2020, prices decreased in almost half of monitored markets while remaining stable in others, due to increased supply as farmers sold maize in order to purchase agricultural inputs for the current production season. While maize grain prices have remained above the five-year average in most markets, relatively low current prices compared to some previous years are due to above-average supplies in most markets as most households are still relying on own-produced food following an above-average 2020 harvest.

  • The 2020/21 rainy season started 1-3 weeks late across most of Malawi. Despite this and despite erratic rains from November 20 to December 10 which delayed planting in some areas, most areas across the country have now planted main crops. Overall, cumulative precipitation deficits since October have generally been erased by rainfall in the first two weeks of December. According to the latest forecasts, average cumulative rainfall is now expected for the season through March 2021.

  • After remaining low for several months, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily has increased somewhat from December 15 to 22. Prior to this, given the general low incidence of new cases and continued relaxation of restrictions in recent months, trade and other forms of economic activity had been recovering, leading to improvements in income-earning opportunities for urban households. However, as of December 22, the government had issued new restrictions, including closing land borders to foreigners and the movement of non-essential goods. This as well as other restrictions in the region (particularly South Africa) is expected to reduce economic activity related to tourism and trade, and consequently reduce employment and income-earning opportunities for some low-income urban households whose resilience is already weakened from the first wave of COVID-19 in mid-2020 and who are being impacted by rising cost of living.